The current and future state of the Downhill World Cup – Part II

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FIS technical expert Atle Skårdal gives Ski racing media an update on the latest scientific research on downhill jumps.

The scientific approach

In an effort to reduce serious injuries in downhill races, a computer program that estimates the trajectory of skiers on downhill jumps is being developed, which, in turn, will help organizers design good jumps with security profiles. This work is being carried out by an international project group consisting of sports scientists from the Institute of Sports Science at the University of Innsbruck and the Norwegian School of Sports Science, FIS Race Directors Hannes Trinkl and Jean -Philippe Vulliet (for the speed events of the Women’s World Cup), as well as the local organizing committees involved in the project. The project is funded by the FIS Injury Prevention and Surveillance Program.

FIS Alpine Technical Expert Atle Skårdal says Ski racing about the project:

“The aim of the project is to develop a program where one can fairly accurately estimate, using GPS coordinates and the exact speed on the jump, the flight path of the runner. Then you can see how high the skier gets before landing – this is the crucial issue. If the height of the skier in the air is too high, the pressure and force of the landing will have a huge impact on the skier. And if, in addition, the ground is not completely flat, or slightly inclined on one side, this will clearly be a factor of increased risk and injury.

KITZBUEHEL, AUSTRIA, 23.JAN.22 – FIS World Cup, Hahnenkamm race. Broderick Thompson (CAN). Photo: photo GEPA

In addition to estimating rider trajectory, the program will also provide valuable annual insight into when downhill courses are shaped and prepared for competition. Snowcats equipped with modern equipment can – with the help of GPS readers, coordinates and this program – recreate the exact same jumps that worked well on the same course the previous year, eliminating the need to start over zero each year.

During the 2022 season, the project group worked on the men’s and women’s World Cup race tracks in Val Gardena-Gröden, Zauchensee, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Kitzbühel, Crans-Montana and Kvitfjell. The plan is to continue with more sites next year and possibly continue with some of the sites already visited this season, as the group was unable to cover all the jumps simultaneously. “It’s quite extensive work, with video analysis and measurements with GPS coordinates etc., to get enough data to feed the system to allow accurate calculation of the flight path,” says Skårdal. .

However, speed, snow conditions and other aspects may vary each year. Skårdal says that as long as they use the same gate location as the year before, it’s likely the speed will stay mostly the same. Also, if conditions were relatively slow and bad one year, they need to add a safety buffer for the more extreme times to be on the safe side. “This project aims to increase safety, so it is important that the recommendations of the project group are conservative and that one does not try to fix the absolute maximum length of jumps.

Skårdal, who was the former FIS Chief Race Director for the Women’s World Cup until he changed to FIS in 2019, knows the extreme workload, heavy responsibilities – and sometimes the pressure – that the job of race director entails. He describes how a race director constantly assesses speed, jump length and other factors, and he emphasizes that race directors do their best, in all situations, to make good decisions and secure races. sure. But, he says, race directors can also sometimes make mistakes, “because they’re only human.”

Skårdal expresses that working for increased safety in international speed events is an ongoing battle:

“There are a lot of things that could have been done, for example with ski equipment, which could have increased safety, but nobody really wants to go in that direction because they know they will. ski a turn a little differently and they’ll get a different feel, and not many people are interested in doing that, unfortunately, so there’s always a battle, a lot of different interests, and it’s always difficult. can’t give up.

For similar reasons, the Injury Prevention and Surveillance program has difficulty finding enough funding to carry out projects like this. “For many, it’s not that fun to work on security projects, because it usually means working a bit counterproductive when it comes to performance. And it’s not so popular in this environment, says Skårdal.

Whether you like it or not

With so much work required to make a jump work safely, some might wonder why a jump like the Kitzbühel finish jump just can’t be done away with altogether. However, jumping plays an important role in slowing down runners before they reach the finish area:

“If they have to come out of the downhill position, they slow down immediately. We don’t want to go from the last throw in downhill position to the finish. Then we are even faster there. So, of course, we have to try something to get them out of the downhill position. And we will find a solution that works,” says Trinkl.

KITZBUEHEL, AUSTRIA, 23.JAN.22 – FIS World Cup, Hahnenkamm race. Dominique Paris (ITA). Photo: GEPA Images

What do skiers think of the changes to a classic descent like “die Streif”?

“Real downhillers aren’t that happy,” Trinkl laughs. “You know, they want it to be tough.” He stresses, however, that the FIS and the organizers must consider the starting peloton as a whole, including riders who are there for the first time and riders who are tough, but still not the toughest in the peloton.

“It’s quite tough in Kitzbühel. Kitzbühel will always be difficult, so no one wins there as a beginner. But we can’t forget downhillers are real the descenders. They want to be on a really tough course. We have to walk that fine line and find a Well way that works for everyone. But the most important thing is safety and avoiding accidents. We I don’t want to crashsays Trinkl explicitly.

What about Skårdal, double super-G world champion (1996 and 1997) and silver medalist at the downhill world championships in 1993? Does he think athletes in general appreciate the work being done?

“I’m pretty sure they do, although they might not say so. There’s a lot of testosterone in that system, and there are badass, and it’s not that common for a downhill racer to say it’s going too fast or too far or whatever. But I think in their minds they’re pretty happy that someone is trying to keep control, because they don’t like getting hurt either.

Trinkl, the 2001 world champion and 1998 Olympic bronze medalist in the downhill, thinks athletes and the sport have come a long way since his racing days some 20 years ago:

“The boys are in really amazing physical shape. So they got better. They are very good skiers. They are getting better and better. They are really strong mentally, and also, all the material is moving forward. Then we get more speed for sure, especially in the corners. It’s not just straight-line speed. G-forces are much higher than they were in the past.

And so, with improving ski ability and equipment, resulting in increased speed and G-forces, comes the need for adjustments in race profiles, course layout and safety measures. .

Crossing borders

Another change for men’s and women’s World Cup downhill racers for the 2022-23 ski season is the planned addition of early season downhill competitions on the all-new Matterhorn course at the foot of the mighty mountain. known in Switzerland as the Matterhorn and in Italy as the Matterhorn. Zermatt, Switzerland, and Cervinia, Italy, will host the first-ever Alpine Skiing World Cup races to cross national borders.

CRANS-MONTANA, SWITZERLAND, 26.FEB.17 – FIS World Cup, Alpine Combined, Super G, Ladies. The Matterhorn. Photo: GEPA Images

The course will start in Switzerland. Pending the completion of a new cable car to the upper section by Klein Matterhorn, the fall 2022 men’s start will need to be lowered from the previously scheduled start at 3,900 meters (12,795 ft), to 3,700 meters (12,140 ft). The running hill, designed by 2010 Swiss Olympic downhill champion Didier Défago, ends at Cime Bianche in Cervinia, Italy, at 2,835 meters (9,300 feet). Two men’s and two women’s downhill races are scheduled to take place over two weekends, likely in late October and early November, after the traditional season opener in Sölden, Austria, according to a January 2022 statement from the FIS. The actual World Cup competition schedule for next season will be confirmed at the FIS Congress in late May, according to Skårdal.

There have been mixed feelings among those involved with the World Cup tour as to whether it’s a good idea with such a demanding high altitude downhill course partially on a glacier so early in the season. Some skiers say it will be difficult to find locations for full, high-quality downhill training before such early race dates. Others, including the FIS, think it would be great to add downhill races to the World Cup schedule at this time of year.

FIS involvement in the development of a new hill is vital, and FIS race directors Trinkl and Vulliet were on hand for an inspection of the proposed race venue in August 2021.

What are Trinkl’s first impressions of the new Matterhorn ski jump?

“It’s very interesting. We’ll see what happens with all the new designs and what they’re trying to do. They have to clear the rocks in some places, and also on the glacier, we know there’s a lot of crevices, so it will be interesting. I only went there for the first inspection.

“I have a front row in mind, but we’ll see what happens. We had no snow on the lower part of the glacier. I want to see what it looks like there with snow, and then I can give some answers,” Trinkl says. Another inspection will take place this spring, where the design of the race course and the necessary safety measures will be assessed.

As the World Cup season draws to a close, it is time for race directors, the FIS, all organisers, teams, various support staff and – not least – the riders to focus on the work needed to make the coming season even better. a. The search for the best solutions is ongoing. And for FIS race directors, these must be the safest.

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